With the pundits dismissing the prospect of serious debate at tomorrow’s ALP National Conference, the real bleeding heart action has shifted to the Fringe Program, which like the Melbourne street festival of the same name, is shaping up as a hotbed of counter-hegemonic transgression.
According to the Fringe flyer, leftist comrades have some serious dissonance planned, with something called the Labor Environment Action Network and Labor for Refugees promising dazzling diversity compared to the grinding monotony on conference floor.
Crikey favourites Rainbow Labor, coming off a triumphant gay marriage victory at the Tasmanian state conference, are anxious to extend their same sex push nationally, despite K-Rudd spin doctors ruling out the idea earlier this week. Other marquee events include a cocktail party hosted by Emily’s List and a somewhat more anodyne session on “eye health” helmed by Vision Australia. However, the “Secret Garden”, a sexually transmitted diseases dinner, has been cancelled.
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But it was the sequencing of the some of the Fringe sessions that really caught Crikey’s eye. At 5.45pm tomorrow, the Rainbow Labor seminar on LGBTI law reform, MCd by WA senator Louise Pratt, will go head-to-head with a rival session on “Peace justice reconciliation for Israel and Palestine” hosted by the well known Hezbollah-provocateurs at the AWU.
AWU chief Paul Howes’ most recent attempt to get the global labour movement to “challenge the apologists for Hamas and Hizbollah” ended in farce after rank and file unionists failed to turn up to its New York launch.
Tomorrow night’s session, co-hosted by the MUA, could end in tears. Earlier this year the MUA was slammed by Howes’ US pal Stuart Appelbaum for backing “anti-Semitism cloaked under the veil of anti-Zionism”. Howes then claimed MUA factional allies the CFMEU were “lining up” behind Hamas.
Crikey understands that renegade forces within the Left had planned to run their own Middle East forum, with the participation of Australians for Palestine, but the AWU nixed the idea in favour of a more “fair and balanced” talk fest. The Queensland Left in particular is said to be still seething.
Meanwhile, on the green fringe, a Environment Action Network spokesperson told Crikey that the eight-month old group would be pushing for a debate on climate “based on the science”, but didn’t expect to have any impact at all on the national platform. With their policy-influence neutered, the forum may intead serve to bouy Lindsay Tanner and Tanya Plibersek, with both ministers sturggling to save themselves from implosion at the hands of Bob Brown.
Over in think-tank land, parallel sessions run by the Chifley Research Centre reads like something out of the Guardian circa 1995, with revolution-through-the-institutions aficionado Will Hutton making a triumphant return to Australian shores on the back of a series of striking op-eds in sister publication The Observer.
But away from the heat and light on the fringe, the broader story from the conference is one of the utter impotence of any faction to the left of the PM’s media unit.
Delegates have told Crikey that they’d be spending substantial time at the Star City craps tables, with their numbers rendered irrelevant by the overarching left-right détente.
The industrial wing of the party has been effectively bought off by yesterday’s Kim Carr-driven preferred-purchasing brainwave, leaving TCFU firebrand Michele O’Neil as the sole remaining lightning rod. But she is unlikely to please the fringe dwellers, with her chief concern said to be securing Australian-made defence uniforms.